Torban Betts’s play brings a wordy text to the screen courtesy of Original Theatre in Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon. Filmed largely in the homes of actors, we are taken straight into the interior of the spacecraft as a mission which seems routine goes badly wrong.
Tristan Shepherd’s wizardry has already taken us into the trenches of the Great War in Birdsong Online, and here, seeing the mysteries of space, the surroundings are taken up a notch.
Jack Swigert (played by a laid-back Tom Chambers), Fred Haise (a tense Michael Salami) and Jim Lovell (an intense Christopher Harper) are travelling together – they will be the next men on the moon. It is 1970, a year after the media hysteria of Armstrong and Aldrin: no one is glued to the television this time.
Fifty years on, Fred and Jim, now old men “in the departure lounge”, grant a socially-distanced interview but balk at the idea that there was any conflict or emotional chat during the flight. These are military men, guarding their memories with a stoical modesty.
Back in the craft, the young men are scared, do miss their families, and start to explore the big issues. In the name of drama, this aspect may be somewhat embellished, but it makes the story interesting.
When older Jim (a thoughtful performance by Philip Franks) remembers at the moment of blast-off “never feeling more alive in my life” we see that flicker of excitement at doing something unique. Older Fred (Geoff Aymer, who brings quiet dignity to the part) has lost his fire but retains an element of pride.
In this production, directed by Alastair Whatley and Charlotte Peters, the show of spaceflight is just as important as the human element of three men working in tandem with their team on the ground to avert disaster.
We feel the tension, but also the amusing moments: references to the long process of preparing for sleep, jokes about not listening to themes from 2001: a Space Odyssey.
References to Vietnam and the Civil Rights Movement put us into a 1970 mindset but really, these changes and concerns feel lost when you are light years away from the Earth and looking on a sight only a handful of people have seen before you.
This filmed piece of drama tries to do justice to both but inevitably it is small moments like the click of a camera that matter. Moments like two old men remembering events from a lifetime ago then donning their facemasks to go back out into the present danger of “pestilence”.
Apollo 13: The Dark Side of the Moon is available from Original Theatre from 8 October to the end of 2020. Tickets can be purchased here from £17.50.
LouReviews received complimentary access to review Apollo 13.